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Library History

Library History

Early Library History

On March 7, 1892, the Fortnightly Club, consisting of “civic- minded ladies,” established a book collection for its members.  In November 1896, this collection was opened to “a limited number who shall be called Library Members.” The Y.M.C.A. also sponsored a reading room, but it was not until April 1900, that Miss Lillie R. Gilliland attempted to organize a library. She established a circulating library, called the Arkansas City Library, and it was situated in the Commercial Club Assembly Room.  It had 75 members who paid $1.00 each for a membership fee.  The collection consisted of 500-600 volumes. At the end of the year the Commercial Club “failed to vote any help for the Library,” and Miss Gilliland gave away or sold the books at this point.

After the demise of the “city library,” the St. Cecilia Club, a ladies’ musical society, produced concerts to raise funds for a public library.  On April 15, 1904, after considerable promotion, the proposition “to establish and maintain a free public library” was brought to a vote, but was defeated.

The Carnegie Library

N. D. Sanders, “an enthusiastic advocate” of a library, entered into correspondence with Andrew Carnegie who responded with a generous offer of $16,000.00 for a building.  This was on April 10, 1906.  (The amount was later increased to $18,400, provided that “Council guarantee a corresponding increase in the maintenance fund.”)  On June 28, 1906, the electorate voted to support a public library.  The first Library Board was established July 11, 1906.

A site at Second Street and West Fifth Avenue was chosen and six lots were selected and purchased.  The architectural firm of Smith and Shenck of Fort Worth designed the building.  The contract was let for no more than $16,000.00 to George E. Hopper, but the building was finished under the supervision of J. Y. Davis.  The plumbing was done by James Bays, and decorating and interior finishing was contracted by Cooper & Heydorf Bros.  The library board spent $2,600.00 on the grounds, and the building cost was $18,400.00.  The Fortnightly Club donated 600 volumes to the 3,000 volumes purchased by the board, thus the library was opened with 3,600 volumes.  The dedication was held August 5, 1908. A. J. Hunt, president of the New Era Mill, gave the dedicatory address.

Miss Hattie Osborne, a Library Science graduate, was hired for six months starting July 1, 1908, to catalog the books and to train Mrs. A. B. Ranney, who served as Head Librarian for the next 24 years.  At first, the library contained mostly donated books and periodicals, but by the end of 1910 the library owned 3390 books and 20 periodicals.  Throughout the years, the library has been enriched by gifts and memorial donations of books, periodicals, art objects, and furnishings through the generosity of its supporters.

As the city grew, the library kept pace.  During the Depression, circulation leapt to over 100,000 books per year, telling a silent tale of need fulfilled during those lean years.  Building improvements were made through the years with the idea of maintaining the original style of the building but still keeping pace with the times.  A new entrance was added in 1960, complete with glass vestibule.  A mezzanine was built in 1965, which provided shelving for many additional books.  Finally, the library holdings outgrew the facilities and in 1980, the Library Board acquired the old post office building at the corner of 5th Avenue and A Street.  After extensive remodeling of the building, the library was moved to the new location in November 1980.

The Current Library

The old Post Office building, built in 1914, was vacated in the early 1970s when the Post Office opened a new building at Washington and A Streets, and became the property of the Department of the Navy.  For many years, the city administration and local citizens argued that this building would make a suitable new home for the library, which was “packed to the walls” with materials in its location on West 5th Avenue.  In July 1978, the building was turned over to the City of Arkansas City by the federal government for the purpose of providing library collections and services.  After an extensive renovation that added a balcony area on the second level, an elevator, and public restrooms, the library moved to its new home in November 1980.

As a part of the 2002-2003 Families First Recreation Initiative of the City of Arkansas City, recent renovations to the library have been completed.  This project provided over $145,000 for capital improvements to the existing library facility.  The main and upper levels of the library have been newly carpeted and painted, and collections have been shifted to better serve the public.  Furnishings were added and minor renovations have been undertaken in order to create a more relaxing and welcoming atmosphere in the library.

In 2012, the library circulated more than 100,760 items from a collection of 39,568 holdings that includes books, ebooks, audio CDs, audio ebooks, Playaways, DVDs, music CDs, microfilm, newspapers, and magazines.  On average 287 patrons per day came through the library, and the free internet access computers were used 21,423 times.

Resources used:

The Carnegie Legacy in Kansas (1985), Kansas State Library.

“Library One of City’s Proud Possessions” (1971, July 30), Arkansas City Daily Traveler, p. 6A.

Notes from Phyllis Tilson, Arkansas City Public Library files.